Hear what a black hole looks like

As part of NASA’s Black Hole Week, two new sounds from known black holes have been released.

  • Two new sounds for known black holes have been released[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Black Hole Week.
  • The Perseus galaxy cluster was made famous because of sound waves detected around its

    The black hole at the center of the Galactic Cluster Perseus

    Since 2003, the black hole at the heart of the Perseus cluster of galaxies has been associated with sound. That’s because astronomers have found that pressure waves emanating from the black hole create ripples in the cluster’s hot gas that can be translated into observation—humans can’t hear about 57 octaves below the middle of the C. awl. This new audio – translating astronomical data into sound – is being released on NASA’s 2022 Black Hole Week.


    New sonication of the black hole at the center of the Perseus cluster of galaxies. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)

    In some ways, this sonication is unlike anything that’s been done before, as it revisits actual sound waves detected in data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The common misconception that there is no sound in space arises from the fact that most of space is essentially a vacuum and provides no means for sound waves to propagate through it. On the other hand, a galaxy cluster contains large amounts of gas that surround hundreds or even thousands of galaxies, providing a medium for sound waves to travel.

    In this new Perseus sonication, sound waves previously identified by astronomers have been extracted and made audible for the first time. The sound waves were plotted in radial directions, i.e. off-center. The signals in the human auditory range were then recombined, raising them 57 and 58 octaves above the true pitch. Another way to put it is that it hears 144 quadrillion and 288 quadrillion times its original frequency. (One quadrillion equals 1,000,000,000,000,000). Radar-like scanning around the image allows you to hear the waves emitted in different directions. In the visible image of this data, both blue and violet show the X-ray data captured by Chandra.


    New sonication of the black hole at the center of galaxy M87. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)

    The black hole at the center of the Galaxy M87

    In addition to the Perseus galaxy cluster, a new sonication of another famous black hole is being launched. Messier 87’s black hole, or M87, has been studied by scientists for decades and gained a celebrity status in science after the first launch of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project in 2019. This new sound doesn’t display EHT data, but sounds in data from telescopes Others spotted the M87 at much wider intervals around the same time. The image in visible form contains three panels, top to bottom, Chandra X-ray, and NASA optical light[{” attribute=””>Hubble Space Telescope, and radio waves from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. The brightest region on the left of the image is where the black hole is found, and the structure to the upper right is a jet produced by the black hole. The jet is produced by material falling onto the black hole. The sonification scans across the three-tiered image from left to right, with each wavelength mapped to a different range of audible tones. Radio waves are mapped to the lowest tones, optical data to medium tones, and X-rays detected by Chandra to the highest tones. The brightest part of the image corresponds to the loudest portion of the sonification, which is where astronomers find the 6.5-billion solar mass black hole that EHT imaged.

    This sonication was led by the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) and is included as part of NASA’s Education Universe (UoL) program with additional support from the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center’s Hubble Space Telescope. The collaboration was led by visualization scientist Kimberly Arcand (CXC), astrophysicist Matt Russo and musician Andrew Santagueda (both from the SYSTEMS Sound Project). NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center handles science from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts. The educational materials in the NASA Universe are based on work that NASA supports under a collaborative agreement awarding NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | The Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Harvard and Smithsonian University.

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